Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Wednesday acknowledged tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over illegal immigration but stressed that both countries have an interest in ensuring their citizens can cross the border legally and safely.
"Our nations will never find prosperity by closing their doors," Calderon told a joint session of the California Legislature in his first U.S. visit since winning office in 2006.
"I know that immigration is a controversial issue today in this great nation. But I strongly believe that Mexican and Mexican-American workers are a large reason for the dynamic economy of California," he said in prepared remarks.
Calderon's coast-to-coast U.S. trip, which began Sunday, is aimed at improving Americans' perceptions of Mexico amid a bruising national debate over illegal immigration. Calderon has complained about "growing harassment and frank persecution" of Mexicans in the U.S., and has criticized U.S. presidential candidates for having "swaggering, macho and anti-Mexican posturing" attitudes.
"The choice is not between migration and security or between migration and prosperity," Calderon told legislators. "The choice is between a future of integration and success or a future of distrust and resentment between us."
Calderon said Mexico has taken steps to strengthen security at the border and improve its economy. "I am a president who is not glad to see Mexicans migrating to the United States," he said.
He added, however, that U.S. prosperity continues to depend on Mexican laborers, and that "we need to make migration legal, safe and organized."
Crackdowns and reforms
Calderon said the government has stepped up law enforcement against drug traffickers and organized crime. Calderon cited the seizure of large amounts of cocaine and cash, and said the increased pressure drove up the price of drugs in America by nearly 50 percent last year.
The government also has reformed the country's tax and pension systems, attracted a record $23 billion in foreign investment and lowered inflation. He also said it is embarking on a $250 billion, five-year infrastructure plan to improve the country's harbors, airports and highways.
Despite those efforts, Calderon said, Mexico needs more cooperation from the U.S. and California, which has strong economic ties to the country.
Mexico needs investment from California and the rest of the nation to help improve the lives of the working class so its citizens do not have to seek work in the U.S., he said.
State Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, said he doubts Calderon's sincerity about stopping illegal immigration because Mexico's economy depends so heavily on remittances from migrant workers in the U.S.
"If you really took literally what he said, it would be OK. But I don't believe it," Wyland said. "If they wanted to control illegal immigration, they could do it tomorrow. Why is all the burden on us?"
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who spent part of his childhood in Mexico, praised Calderon for what he said was the president's commitment to overcoming the limitations of Mexico's past.
Calderon was warmly received by the Democratic-leaning Legislature. But as he arrived at the Capitol, he was greeted by several dozen protesters who carried banners accusing him of being corrupt.
Traveling throughout the country
The president traveled to Massachusetts, New York and Chicago before arriving Tuesday night in California.
After his address to lawmakers, Calderon met privately with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his advisers on environmental and trade issues.
After a state luncheon hosted by the governor and first lady Maria Shriver, Calderon was to visit the Napa Valley and then Los Angeles, where he was to meet with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.